Monthly Archives: November 2017

Star Wars: Battlefront 2 Review

Yep, I brought it. A bit of a gamble to be sure but it’s not the worst purchase I’ve made this year (for anyone interested that would be either Mass Effect: Andromeda or my rather underused Gym membership). If by some miracle you’ve missed the furore that has seen EA being repeatedly eviscerated on Reddit, Twitter and every conceivable form of social media because of this game, let me explain. Battlefront 2 costs full price at release (£50 for either console or PC) but features a levelling and reward system so slow and complex that the only way to get everything out of it was to either sink weeks-worth of time or fistfulls of extra cash into the game. Even then you aren’t guranteed to get exactly what you want, because the reward system relies on (sigh) random loot boxes, which leaves a very ‘luck of the draw’ feel to which players are rewarded most. As a result, Battlefront 2 has had the most difficult launch of any game since Mass Effect 3, whose ending got ripped to shreds by fans. And, as with that mess, EA has backed down. Sort of. Scrapping the ability to buy extra in-game currency with real cash does cut out the whole play-to-win issue, and they have reduced the cost required to unlock heroes and weapons. But the game still has plenty of other problems. So why’d I buy it? Simple: the gameplay’s actually quite good.

I loved the first remake last year (at least at launch). The multiplayer was really good, the servers were normally reliable, and everything felt pretty balanced. I didn’t really miss a substantial single-player mode because the online was nailing what I wanted from the game. Then EA messed about with it and fucked it up a bit. They did this because they wanted to sell £30-40 of DLC, which you basically had to buy to access all the new abilities and heroes the DLC packs included (the multiplayer became significantly harder if you persevered with the abilities/heroes from the base game only). The DLC was also a mixed bag (Outer Rim and Death Star were good expansions, but Rogue One and Bespin were undercooked and the maps nothing special). Although EA/DICE did balance out a lot of issues through updates, the gameplay wasn’t as pure as it had been at launch. I’ve still got the original, but I was kind of falling out of love with it, which is part of the reason I brought the new one (which EA has guaranteed will only have FREE DLC).

First up: the good news. Visually, the game’s a massive step up from its predecessor (which looked pretty damn good). The space battles in particular are stunningly rendered. You now can also play as Light or Dark Side in any of the three Star Wars eras (and you get heroes from the Prequel and Sequel trilogies into the bargain, such as Yoda, Darth Maul, Rey and Kylo Ren). Fans of the original Battlefront series will be pleased to hear that it feels a lot more like the originals than last year’s battlefront did (mainly because it has its own unique combat system and classes this time, not just a Battlefield 1 system with a Star Wars paintjob). The multiplayer has also been simplified, now there are only 5 distinct game modes: Blast (Team Deathmatch), Heroes vs. Villains, Starfighter Assault (Space Battles), Galactic Assault (Massive 40v40 game modes) and Strike (a smaller, 8v8 mode similar to Galactic Assault but easier for low level players). While the loss of modes like Cargo and Drop Zone are a slight shame, the lack of crap modes like Turning Point, Infiltration and Sabotage is an improvement, as is the new system of picking one mode and sticking with it for as long as you like (not cycling between modes, as happened in the first game’s DLC). I’m sure EA will throw in extra modes in DLC packs, but the original 5 are more than sufficient atm. The main improvement is the scrapping of power ups. Now, instead of having to memorise where power-ups appear on the battlefield, you get battle points from kills and completing objectives, which you can trade in to get access to jump troopers, flame troopers, heroes and vehicles. It’s a much better system, and ensures that only good players actually get the power-ups, which feels a lot fairer.

Heroes vs. Villains has actually been significantly improved. The new 4v4 battle between heroes is much better than the old version, simply because you don’t have to spend one of every two rounds waiting to be a hero (and getting repeatedly slaughtered as a standard soldier). Instead, each side has 4 heroes, one of which on each side will be marked as a target for the other side to kill. After a minute or so (or when a target is killed), the target player will switch (first side to 10 target kills wins). This allows for some great battles, as most heroes are pretty evenly matched (The Emperor and Lando are still pretty crap to play as but they’re the only duds). Well, they’re evenly matched unless there’s a single high level hero in play, which can get annoying very fast (especially Boba Fett, because Jedi are next to useless against him while he’s airborne).

This can be a recurring problem in the other modes. Galactic Assault, Strike and Blast can all be really fun, but players who’ve sunk time into the game or got lucky with loot boxes can repeatedly annihilate low level players (I know this is normal for multiplayer, but normally a skilled-enough player can compensate at low-level, but the difference here between low and high level players seems a bit more pronounced that it needs to be. Fortunately, there are no such problems in Starfighter Assault, i.e. Battlefront II’s best game mode. Ship combat and handling has been massively improved since the last game, the variety of Hero ships is better and they are all less overpowered. High level players won’t walk this mode, as skill is much more important than levelled abilities here. There are now 3 classes of ship: Interceptor (good at ship to ship fighting and very manoeuvrable but bad at doing damage to objectives), Bombers (highly damaging but slow and hard to manoeuvre) and Fighters (good all-rounders but not perfect at either style).

Looking at the single player, we’ve actually got a campaign this time. It’s a bit short (4-5 hours) but I suspect DLC will add to it. There are some great set pieces (The Battle of Jakku is a highlight, as are Luke and Leia’s levels) and Iden Versio makes for a compelling enough main character, even if the storyline is VERY predictable and the first few levels nothing special. Single-Player/Co-Op Arcade Mode is pretty fun, but is weakened by another stupid game mechanic, which limits the number of credits you can earn from Arcade mode in 24 hours. This seems utterly needless, given that you only get 100 credits per round (and thus would need 100 rounds worth of credits to unlock heroes like Chewbacca anyway) and disincentives you from completing the various challenges.

Overall, the gameplay, feel and look of the thing are perfect, so well done DICE. It’s just a shame you’re owned by EA, whose greed and outright stupidity have left a levelling system and in-game currency that are both needlessly complicated and rather frustrating if you’re not lucky with the loot boxes (Loot Boxes seriously need to DIE! This is the last multiplayer game I will buy which uses them. They are a toxic idea dreamt up by fat executives in suits who presumably could rival Jabba the Hutt for Greed and general Morality). In short, this game still needs work, but it is worth buying (preferably when its on sale – its worth £30, but not the £50 release price), so long as you’re willing to put the time into it. If you’re after a game you can play every so often but not consistently, ignore this. It isn’t an entry for casual gamers.

This isn’t a total failure, and it doesn’t miss the point of what fans wanted from it, but it could (and should) have been a lot better.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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Injustice 2 Review

A superhero fighting game that’s actually good? Believe it or not, that’s exactly what we’ve got from NetherRealm Studios. For those who don’t know Injustice 2 is a Tekken/Street Fighter style fighting game which allows you to pit 2 DC heroes or villains against each other. Each Hero/Villain has their own abilities, attacks and Supermoves, ranging from Batman’s melee and gadget attacks to Superman’s various powers.

Minor spoilers for Single Player plotline follow.

The sequel to Injustice: Gods Among Us looks better than its predecessor and features a wider roster of DC characters. You don’t need to have played the original to get to grips with this or to follow the single player storyline (long story short: the first game featured Superman going off the rails and forming a tyrannical regime backed by Wonder Woman, Aquaman and several other superheroes after Lois Lane was murdered by Joker, only for Batman to rally other superheroes, such as Green Lantern and The Flash, against the regime and take Superman down). The story this time continues the power struggle between the two factions while also seeing Earth come under threat from Brainiac, the villain responsible for Krypton’s destruction.

The single player campaign takes between 3-4 hours depending on difficultly setting and your own proficiency. The game features an extensive tutorial mode which YOU NEED to try before jumping right in – it will take you several fights to get up to speed. While the campaign is short, there are so many single player modes that Injustice is well worth the £20/30 price tag. As well as a battle simulator and 1v1 modes, Injustice 2 introduces the ‘Multiverse’ section, which features a daily/weekly selection of challenges (involving a series of events featuring anything from 3-10 matches and an occasional high level boss fight). Multiverse challenges will often feature an additional twist, such as having a secondary hero who will occasionally support you, or added arena hazards to worry about. Given that the multiverse challenges refresh continuously, you’ll never really run out of single player. At least not until you’ve levelled EVERY character up to level 20 (the maximum) at which point only the hardest challenges or the extensive multiplayer might still provide challenges. This would take weeks if not months of gameplay, so you really don’t have to worry about running out of things to do.

As for what Heroes and Villains are available? Well put it this way: if you’re a fan of DC movies, the Arrowverse, Gotham or the various cartoons from when you were kids, you’ll be happy with the selection. Injustice 2 features:

Justice League Members: (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Cyborg, Green Lantern and Aquaman)

Batman Villains: (Harley Quinn, Joker, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, Bane)

Arrowverse characters: (Green Arrow, Supergirl, Black Canary, Firestorm, Captain Cold, Gorilla Grodd, Deadshot)

Others: Swamp Thing, Black Adam, Cheetah, Atrocitus, Blue Beetle and various other characters who you may not have heard of before also feature, but are all surprisingly fun to play as.

The season pass is well worth getting as well, as this gives you access to a whole host of extra characters, such as Starfire, The Atom, Raiden, Red Hood, Enchantress, Darkseid and, believe it or not, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!?!?! I don’t think anyone expected them, but there they are.

Incidentally my personal favourites to play as so far have been Starfire, Harley Quinn, Joker and Swamp Thing, but I’m sure everyone will have their own preferences in this game.

Injustice 2’s reward system is a bit more complicated than it needs to be (i.e. 3-4 types of currency where 2 would have really been sufficient), but its not a f*cked up mess like Battlefront II’s seems to be according to reviews, and any pay to play retards (i.e. ones who waste real money buying credits so they can level up faster) won’t actually get themselves much of an advantage in multiplayer. You may get loot crates throughout the game, that’s true, but most of the time the gear they provide is either immediately useable or only 1-3 levels above your characters level, so it isn’t a big problem. They also provide additional skins for your characters, some of which are really cool.

Overall it’s great value for money because of the wealth of potential single-player and multiplayer content. The currency system is a bit contrived and the gameplay can get repetitive, but overall its a fine fighting sim, and a must for DC fans!

Rating: 4 out of 5

Next Up: Horizon Zero Dawn (i.e. the game of the year so far).

Skyrim Special Edition Review

As PSN had it on sale, I finally decided to get the upgrade and re-purchase Skyrim for PS4. Was it worth it? In short… hell yes.

The original Skyrim had several major problems bugging it. The loading screen times were unacceptably long (particularly once you got past Level 30), the save files took up a ridiculous amount of room, and the game was prone to crashing when trying to save or load at high levels. This got so frustrating I finally threw out the PS3 version earlier in the year, as I was wasting 10 mins on loading screens for every hour of gameplay once my character had got up to level 40. Not the case anymore.

The Special edition fixes the loading screen problem completely. The longest I’ve had to wait so far was about 10 seconds, and this makes the game a lot less frustrating. The number of glitches is down as well (noticed two minor glitches and had one crash by level 26, which is a vast improvement on the original). The quicksave feature also helps speed up gameplay, while the game no longer risks crashing everytime it tries to autosave. The PS4’s vast memory also means the large save-file size is no longer an issue.

In short, the Special Edition fixes 95% of the original games problems. It also gives the graphics a welcome upgrade – the game always looked good, but the landscape almost feels real now in a way it didn’t before. The light and shadow effects are something truly special, especially the way that sunbeams and moonlight visually change the light level outdoors. Water, plantlife and weather look more realistic too, while sunrise and sunsets are truly beautiful. One side effect of the improved graphics is that character creation is now actually worth your time – (Argonians, Elves and Khajiit are now far more worth customising than previously, and you can see the effect minor changes make much more easily). Previously you could be done making a good-looking character in 1 minute, now you can take 5-10 to perfect all the details (or 20-30 mins if you’re like my friend Molly 😉 The new version also adds full mod support if that’s your thing.

The Special edition also comes with all 3 bits of DLC attached (Hearthfire, Dawnguard and Dragonborn), so if you never brought those its definitely worth the upgrade. For those who don’t know, Hearthfire allows you to build your own houses/manors, adopt children and, most crucially, helps you level up that Smithing skill really easily! While it’s a fun addition, the other two expansions are far more worthwhile. Dawnguard introduces two new factions: the Dawnguard, an order of vampire hunters armed with Crossbows, tough armour and a few armoured trolls, and the Vampire Lords, ancient vampires (with some really irritating drain health spells) and their minions (mindless thralls, Death Hounds and living Gargoyles). If you side with the vampires you gain Vampirism and the attached strengths and weaknesses (immunity to poison and disease, weakness to fire, improved powers, no health/magicka/stamina regen in sunlight), including most notably the Vampire Lord form, which features a truly brutal drain health spell and complements mages extremely well. Dawnguard also makes the Werewolf much more useful, as the new Werewolf perk tree allows you to make your bestial form much more powerful for every human you slay and feed on (a must for anyone doing the Companions Questline!). Dragonborn adds an entirely new area to explore (the Island of Solstheim), new enemies and a boss fight with Miraak, the original/first Dragonborn. Oh, and the ability to tame and ride dragons.

To sum up, the Special Edition fixes a lot of problems and really beefs up the graphics, but adds little in terms of gameplay. However, if you never brought the DLC for your previous gen version, would like to try out some mods or are just sick of frequent crashes and slow loading screens, get the upgrade. Just maybe wait till its on sale on PSN or Xbox Live. It’s worth a £20 spend, not the full price £35 it came out for.

Rating: 4 out of 5 (A worthwhile if overpriced upgrade)

I’m in a gaming mood atm, so expect reviews of Injustice 2, Horizon Zero Dawn, Assassin’s Creed Origins and Star Wars: Battlefront 2 over the next month, though I will find time for Thor Ragnarok and Justice League as well.

 

Star Trek Discovery Review

Starring Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Jason Isaacs, Mary Wiseman, Antony Rapp and Michelle Yeoh.

Contains Minor Spoilers

It’s not been the best year for Sci-Fi on TV. Doctor Who’s run was distinctly average, Red Dwarf has only given us 1 good episode from 4 so far and then there’s Star Trek Discovery, whose opening episodes have majorly disappointed me.

I only got into Star Trek recently, thanks mainly to Netflix who put all 5 (The Original Series, Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise) live action Star Trek shows on its roster last year. I watched Voyager’s entire run and loved it, and I’ve delved into one or two of Next Gen’s episodes (mainly the ones with the Borg or Q) and enjoyed them. So when Netflix debuted a brand new Star Trek series with modern effects and a cast featuring a couple of famous faces, I thought I’d give it a go. I wish I hadn’t.

It does look brilliant. We’re talking cinematic level quality here. Netflix clearly spent a lot of money on this. A big space battle in episode 2 is up there with the kind of fights we’ve got from the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. The direction isn’t bad either, and the action scenes in general are high quality. But now I start running out of positives. There are several things which will annoy existing Star Trek fans, such as the utterly pointless redesign of the Klingons and how much more advanced the technology looks than the previous star trek series (which considering this is a prequel to every series but Enterprise is a bit stupid). But these are minor issues compared to the big one. The series’ tone and characters completely suck. It tries to be very dark and gritty, which is never what Star Trek has been about. The whole Klingon-Federation war which drives the shows plotline doesn’t really work because of the shows prequel status (i.e. you know the humans and their allies won’t lose, so the stakes are limited to the survival of the main cast). Sure, the TV series and movies occasionally veer into very dark territory, but normally as a exception to the more usual fun and hopeful vibe they have. Discovery is so concerned with putting flawed characters in morally compromised, depressing situations that it completely forgets to have any fun. (I.e. they went the Batman vs. Superman route when they should have been going for a Rogue One kind of tone). The characters don’t help matters either.

Sonequa Martin-Green isn’t a bad actor, but most Star Trek series hinge a lot on their lead, and Human/Vulcan hybrid Michael Burnham just isn’t interesting enough as a character to merit being a series lead. She lacks the likeability and charm of a Kirk, Picard, Sisko or Janeway, and to be honest, Vulcans are always pretty dull characters to focus on in Star Trek, so having a Vulcanized Human as the lead was probably never a good idea (Spock and Tuvok had their moments, but there’s not a lot of places you can take people who have such a limited emotional range).

The support cast aren’t much better. Jason Isaacs gets stuck in a pretty clichéd and thankless role as Captain Lorca, Doug Jones fails to give you any reason to care about Saru, and Antony Rapp’s engineer sucks the joy out of every scene he’s in. Mary Wiseman is the lone exception, as her perky, optimistic character offers much needed light relief. Unfortunately, she has no one similar to bounce off and this limits how well her character works. Michelle Yeoh is the best thing about the cast, but as a recurring guest star isn’t heavily enough involved to make much of a difference.

The Klingon sections also grow tiresome, mainly because the one Klingon with any screen presence is killed off early in the shows run, leaving a load of inadequate stand in villains to step in for the rest of the run. There’s no Worf or B’Elanna to give the Klingons a sympathetic face, and that makes the whole Federation-Klingon war a very one-sided affair.

After 4 episodes, I ran out of both enthusiasm and patience. Even though the individual episodes were relatively engaging, the overall plotline and cast weren’t. I’ve given up because I didn’t see any reason to persevere (normally I give a new show 5 episodes to prove itself, but this one showed so little potential I couldn’t be bothered). I started watching Deep Space Nine instead, and even though the first series of that show is a VERY mixed bag in terms of quality, the characters are engaging enough and the show delivered enough good episodes with the bad that I’ve stuck with it.

To sum up: if you have Netflix and want to try Star Trek, don’t bother with Discovery. Go watch Next Gen, DS9 or Voyager instead (or even the Original Series or Enterprise if your feeling brave). Discovery isn’t just bad Sci-fi, its bad Sci-Fi which barely qualifies as Star Trek. Honestly haven’t been this disappointed with Netflix before. The show may improve, but frankly, I’m not interested enough in its plot or characters to care.

Rating: 2 out of 5 (Lowest Series rating I’ve ever given).

Also: blandest Star Trek theme tune ever? Its just downright dull compared to the epic, mysterious or triumphant themes the other shows (and films) have.